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Testing functional and morphological interpretations of enamel thickness along the deciduous tooth row in human children


Correspondence to: Patrick Mahoney, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NR, UK. E-mail:


The significance of a gradient in enamel thickness along the human permanent molar row has been debated in the literature. Some attribute increased enamel thickness from first to third molars to greater bite force during chewing. Others argue that thicker third molar enamel relates to a smaller crown size facilitated by a reduced dentin component. Thus, differences in morphology, not function, explains enamel thickness. This study draws on these different interpretive models to assess enamel thickness along the entire human deciduous tooth row. Average enamel thickness (AET), the area and proportion of crown enamel and dentin, and a crown size proxy are calculated for incisors, canines, and molars. Allometric scaling relationships are assessed within each tooth class, and then comparisons are undertaken along the row. Generally, AET was correlated with crown size and scaled with isometry, except for second molars which scaled with positive allometry. Mean AET increased along the row and was greater on molars, where bite forces are reported to be higher. Second molars combined the largest crown size with the thickest enamel and the smallest proportion of dentin, which is consistent with a reduction in the potential for cusp fracture under high bite forces. Resistance to wear may also account for some enamel thickness variation between tooth classes. Dental reduction did not explain the trend in AET from central to lateral incisors, or from first to second molars. The gradient in AET along the deciduous tooth row is partly consistent with a functional interpretation of enamel thickness. Am J Phys Anthropol 151:518–525, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.